For the first 8 years that I lived in this country, I was undocumented. So was my mother and so were my siblings. My father was a legal resident and so he was the one who we relied on for everything, thankfully he found a union job that was able to insure us fully for our entire childhood. That said, being undocumented and from Central America during a time of war, there was constant fear of being discovered.
In elementary school, kids who are cruel and terrible would chase after those of us who were new to the country shouting “La Migra! La Migra!” which basically means, that immigration enforcement was coming. During family gatherings, everyone would discuss deportation with my parents, and the reality that we would possibly have to return to our country was terrifying. I basically grew up my entire childhood with the threat of deportation— I grew up to be a panicky kid.
eventually, with the help of an immigration lawyer and an amazingly generous judge we were granter permanent residence. For the first time in my life, at age 13 I finally found some peace of mind. The judge heard from numerous teachers and community supporters urging him to allow me and my siblings to stay, as we would surely become contributing members to society. We had shown academic curiosity and intensity in the classroom, out performing our peers at every turn. The judge was convinced and because of that I spent the rest of my time in school excelling, making sure not to let any of those who had vouched for us down. I came to resent american born kids who took everything for granted and made my education more difficult by acting out at school, as part of my assimilation, I became blind to the struggles of those around me. While I understood there to be a great injustice in the education system, I did not look at what my peers were going through at home or systemically to make the rebel against schooling.
When I began my time at CAL, I had already begun to change my perspective toward my peers. I made some really strong friendships senior year,and helped many of these friends apply to college.When I began to study american education systems and cultures in the anthro department I began to see the systemic problems that caused my schools to be so disorganized, poorly staffed and maintained, etc. I also began working for a CBO in my hometown and there we had many conversations about educational access and institutional racism. I began to take classes in the education department to understand these themes further—and gave myself completely to the work I was doing outside of school. I changed dramatically, into the person that I am today. It took a few years, and it took a lot of time to decolonize myself. While I still appreciate the opportunity I was given by being granted legal status, I no longer resent the kids who unlike myself could care less about school.
But another side effect to my original status in this country remains, and that is anxiety. This last year I have gone through a series of panic attacks, some debilitated me to the point of having to take 2 weeks out of work at my new job. Today, I am going through one because I received a notice from the State Board re:tax payment. Over the last several months I have begun to explore what the cause of the panic attacks could be— certainly being laid off from an abusive work environment after 12 years has contributed to some of these feelings. But there are other underlying, past events that have been held onto for so long that I have realized are still sources for stress. Crossing into the US without “papers” was traumatic as a 5 year old, but so was living a life in fear for so many years as a small child, that at any moment everything that made me feel safe could be taken away from me. And this makes me think about the thousands of kids today who are living with these fears and who hide in shame, afraid to take a step toward their dreams because they fear being exposed. And it makes me feel pride toward those kids who have decided not to be ashamed of who they are or what their status is—and to speak out for themselves and for the ones who are afraid to do so. Being undocumented it so challenging in so many ways, and I feel like we all have a responsibility to make these kids feel valued and safe. Especially those of us who are educators. I have made it my mission to create a safe place for kids to talk about their status and to explore their dreams with me.
Just wanted to share a bit with you all—I hope everyone is having a great weekend. For those wondering,I am going to give people a few more days to respond to the previous post and will share what our next steps will be for the Salad Bowl next week.